March1937: Arsenal top but Man City close in

By Tony Attwood

March 1937 opened with the table looking like this

Arsenal were two points behind the leaders but still with a lot of games to play.   Manchester City’s rise up the table had been erratic but the latest surge had been quite sudden and they still had a game in hand.  Brentford had two in hand and could overtake Arsenal if they won both.

So anything was possible and the unexpected could most certainly happen – and as the coming reports will show, that certainly turned out to be true.

March showed Arsenal having a heavy schedule as a result of Easter coming early this year and it included three games in four days at the end of the month.  Six league games in all were on the calendar, but first there was the little matter of the FA Cup quarter finals against WBA.

West Brom were 19th in the league and Arsenal had already beaten them away in the league 4-2 the previous November.

Their route to the cup quarter finals had not been too difficult…

Date Round Opposition Venue Result
16.01.1937 3rd Spennymoor United home W7-1
30.01.1937 4th Darlington home W3-2
20.02.1937 5th Coventry City away W3-2
06.03.1937 6th Arsenal home

…and the club had a strong home record in the league (eight wins, two draws, four defeats.)  They had also won their last two league games but these games were both against modest opposition – 3-2 against Grimsby, 6-4 against Sunderland.  So perhaps their league position belied their true strength.

Reaching the 3rd round of the Cup this season was the greatest triumph of Spennymoor (of the Northern League), and indeed it is still seen as the highlight of all their FA Cup ventures.  Sadly the club folded in 2005 and were replaced by Spennymoor Town.

Darlington were near the bottom of Division III (North) when the clubs met while Coventry were fifth in division II but having a really poor run and were slipping down the table fast.

So it was argued, when the draw was made, WBA were more keen on holding onto their first division spot, and had had a very easy ride through the cup thus far.  Arsenal should move into the semi-finals with ease.

Unfortunately football rarely delivers what ought to happen and West Brom found themselves 2-0 up by halftime.  Arsenal never recovered and lost 3-1.

In the other games Millwall (currently seventh in Division III (South) caused the absolute upset of the day by beating Manchester City whose recent progress up the first division table has been noted in these chronicles.  Tottenham lost to Preston 1-3 at White Hart Lane, which meant there was no crowing to be heard from N15, and Wolverhampton drew with Sunderland.

Arsenal’s team for the West Brom game was as strong as possible.  Drake was out with an injury and Kirchen moved across to centre forward, while as in the previous round Bastin returned to his old position on the left wing – and dutifully scored Arsenal’s goal.  But as in three of the last four seasons Arsenal went out in the quarter finals and the Cup was not going to be retained.  Worse,  John Milne who had taken over Bastin’s old position on the left wing (with a couple of appearances on the right as well) was injured.  He had scored nine goals in 19 games this season, and his departure was bound to have an impact.

Arsenal now had to pick themselves up and prepare to play the league game postponed from the Saturday because of the cup match – at home to Liverpool.

Liverpool had won just three of their last 12 league games, and were sitting 17th in the league – a place they had occupied for much of the season.  Their away record of two draws, three wins and 11 defeats suggested Arsenal should win with ease.   But that had been the case with the cup match, so predictions were muted.

Arsenal did in fact win – although not with ease, getting a 1-0 victory courtesy of Kirchen who was now back on the wing (Bowden moving across to centre forward).  This was now the third league match in a row that Kirchen had scored in – getting a total of five in those three games.  Bastin played inside left and Dennis Compton played on the wing, with Bob John playing right half.

But the result took Arsenal back to the top of the league, which is always a psychological boost – although the fixture played when most people were at work, attracted Arsenal’s lowest home crowd of the season, just 16,145.

13 March saw Arsenal away at Leeds United who were currently in 20th position, although with a strong home record (their problem being that they had won only one away match and lost the other 16!)

Leeds’ recent results had been terrible: a 0-2 home defeat to Birmingham, a 2-2 home draw with Bolton,  a 7-1 away defeat to Everton and a 1-4 away loss to Brentford.

But as we’ve noted at home they were a different proposition, although on this occasion Arsenal took the lead and never let it slip.  2-1 up at half time Arsenal won 4-3, with Kirchen yet again on the scoresheet – getting two.  Bastin scored a penalty and Bowden got the fourth.  That made it four games in a row that Kirchen had scored in, and seven goals scored in those four games.

Even more remarkable Kirchen was on the wing once more, and Drake was back at centre forward after missing the last two league games.  Bastin played right half and John left half in a makeshift defensive midfield.

Ominously Manchester City and Charlton both won 3-0 suggesting strongly that Arsenal could allow no slip ups if they wanted to grab the title again.

So three games gone in the month, and Arsenal were still top of the league after two straight wins.  Leaving the FA Cup was starting to look more like getting rid of a distraction rather than a lost opportunity.

Next, on 20 March, there was Birmingham at home.  Birmingham had had something of a turnaround since losing to Charlton at home on 23 January – a defeat that left them 20th in the league.  Since then they were undefeated in seven, a run which had included four wins.  And indeed several of those performances were impressive including a 5-0 victory against Liverpool and a 4-0 win over Brentford (in their last match).  As a result they now sat comfortably in midfield, and were ready to take on anyone.

Arsenal would have fancied their chances, but had to settle for a 1-1 draw, this time having Bowden (who had taken over the number 9 jersey from Drake) doing the goal-scoring honours.  It was also the 421st and final league game for Bob John and who had been a reserve for most of this season.  He went on to be a trainer with West Ham, Crystal Palace and Torquay.

Elsewhere however there was a huge surprise – with Derby beating Charlton 5-0 – exactly the sort of result that Arsenal were looking for if they could not deliver a victory themselves.   Portsmouth won at Huddersfield, Brentford beat Middlesbrough 4-1, while dark horses Man City drew away with Everton.

But there was now no time to look back for 26 March was Good Friday – a day for a full league programme and Arsenal were again at home, this time to Stoke.

Leading into that match the top of the table showed just five points separating seven clubs, with Manchester City once again back in seventh still having two games in hand.

Arsenal’s home game against 16th placed Stoke attracted a large crowd but turned out to be a damp squib, ending goalless.  Stoke had lost five of the last six games so more was hoped for.  Elsewhere Charlton and Portsmouth lost, while Brentford drew, but there was some notice taken of the fact that Man City won 5-0 away at Liverpool.  26 March 1937:   This was also  Ted Drake’s last game of the season.   He only played 26 games in the league this season but he still scored 20 goals in the league.  In the cup he played three and scored seven (and yes that is not a mistake – he got two against Chesterfield, one against Man U and four against Burnley. But the games he missed through injury were considered to have cost Arsenal a commanding lead in the league.

The next day Arsenal had to rush up to Middlesbrough who had just won four of the last five and were now sitting in third position.  Arsenal tried some squad rotation at this point with Drake and James dropping out and Bastin and Davidson who had missed the Good Friday game coming back into the team.  Joy also replaced Roberts at centre half.

The result was another draw – this time 1-1.   That was three draws in a row for Arsenal who were now sitting in third.  Man City were now four points behind Arsenal, and still with those two games in hand.

There were of course no games on Easter Sunday, but Easter Monday had another full programme with Arsenal playing the return game against Stoke – this ending with another 0-0 draw.

This time the line up changes showed more than rotation because in came Arthur Biggs at number 9 for his first ever game – and indeed his only game of the season.  (He played two more next season, but didn’t score a single goal).  Also making a rare appearance was David Nelson at outside right.  Leslie Compton returned at right back.

Elsewhere Charlton won and Middlesborugh drew but the result that had everyone talking was the one in which Man City hit another five against Liverpool, and now were just three points behind Arsenal, still with those two games in hand.

Man City had drawn two and won four of their last six, as compared to Arsenal who had drawn four and won two.  Every other team had lost at least one game in the sequence, and a set of fixtures that had looked as if the title was there for the taking for Arsenal, now had the club looking over its shoulder.  There was no saying that City’s run would continue, but if they won those two games in hand they would be top – and even if they didn’t their 10 goals against Liverpool in two games meant that they had crept very close to Arsenal’s goal average.  One more sizeable win and a draw could well be enough to take them to the top.

The table now looked like this

Here is the usual table of results for the month…

Date Opposition Op pos H/A Result Pos Pts Crowd AC
06.03.1937 WBA (FAC6) 19 away L1-3 64,815 21,742*
10.03.1937 Liverpool 17 home W1-0 1 41 16,145 43,353
13.03.1937 Leeds United 20 away W4-3 1 43 25,148 18,199
20.03.1937 Birmingham City 13 home D1-1 1 44 46,086 43,353
26.03.1937 Stoke City 16 home D0-0 1 45 59,495 43,353
27.03.1937 Middlesbrough 3 away D1-1 1 46 44,523 22,390
29.03.1937 Stoke City 15 away D0-0 1 47 51,480 22,261

*League matches only

The abbreviations, as always…

  • Op pos, is the league position of the opposition before the game.  Chesterfield’s position is obviously in relation to Division 2.
  • Pos is Arsenal’s position after the game
  • AC is the average crowd in league matches for the home team through the season, providing a comparison between the crowd on that day (in the previous column) and the norm expected by the home side.

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